Friday, April 13, 2007

Kathy Sierra, Don Imus, Codes of Conduct and the Success of Meanness

A modular code:

Compassion. Tolerance. Self-restraint.

And a very old one. It works for the same reason other code does or doesn't: lots of time and many runs so thoroughly debugged.

People don't get the point until they feel the pain of the pleasure of the practice. It's not a bad thing to cheer for civility. Leaders should. But as the Imus situation is showing in America, what you are willing to do about it and how deeply you are willing to consider that action before doing it says more about your civility than your abhorrence or acceptance.

A decision, a code, any choice really is drained of its potential by all of the subclauses. As soon as you noticed Sierra's case, you spoke up. What about the years of misbehavior preceding? Did you speak up because she is your friend or a female or an attractive female? Is it a human issue of dignity or a sexist issue of gender over gender?

A thread runs through these debates and others like it. There is an increasing revulsion to violence in the world for reasons too obvious to debate. The web is not a different medium; it just has more readily available microphones so everyone is at the podium right now. That's good, but it isn't that different.

Something like the Imus case becomes an opportunity for many powerful agendas to be attached to an issue of the moment, to ride the media whirlwind into public consciousness until it is so overloaded that it fails to make much change unless followed by an even more egregious incident of the same type. That is terrorist thinking and a terrorist strategy. It is what so many are becoming because by example, they see it working and being intelligent, they adapt to the strategy that is succeeding.

Mean has been succeeding for a long time on the Internet. It isn't men being mean or women being mean, or bloggers being mean or listers being mean, it is mean succeeding. You do better to understand why mean is the successful strategy than to create complex codes that chip away at the freedoms you worked so hard to gain in society and with these technologies.

Until you know why mean succeeds, you don't know what you need to do about it.

1 comment:

John Cowan said...

Why, it succeeds on the Internet for the same reason it succeeds (most of the time) in real life; it's a winning strategy to have the rep of being someone People Don't Mess With.

Of course, the danger is that you get into an escalating battle where neither side dare back down, and then someone ends up dead on the floor and his murderer doesn't have a clue why.

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